Sunday, March 16, 2014

Mass on the Mountain

Transfiguration of Christ by Gerard David
Readings for Sunday, March 16/ 2nd Sunday of Lent:
Genesis 12:1-4
Psalm 33:4-5, 18-20, 22
2 Timothy 1:8-10
Matthew 17:1-9

If you’ve heard a handful of my homilies (or maybe read the blog), you’ll probably know that I love talking about typology – how God uses events that point toward something greater to come, a sort of ‘shadow’ that longs for it’s fulfillment. The crossing of the Red Sea is a type for baptism. The union of Adam and Eve is the type for marriage. We could name countless instances of such events in the Bible, but as I was praying with the Scriptures today, I realized that the Gospel passage we just heard was yet one more of those events that in some way points toward something greater to come. The Transfiguration, if you’ll stick with me for a few moments, is actually what we’re experiencing in every celebration of Holy Mass.

Let take a look. It begins by telling us that, “Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.” This little intro setting the stage is actually quite important for two reasons: 1) It is Jesus – God Himself - who brings them to a separate place to be with Him for a specific event. Likewise, it is God who draws us here today. We come of our own free will, but it was God who first put that desire or compulsion in our heart. 2) He calls them to a separate place for a specific purpose. Almost every time we hear about a mountain in Scripture it is in relation to some encounter with God Himself; Adam & Eve, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, the prophets at various points, and this one with Jesus is yet another. You may not have thought about it before, but almost every Catholic Church you’ve been to in your life has a step to get up into it because we are coming to have another encounter with God here in this church. Stretching the connection a little bit, I laughed while thinking about this because us Louisiana people don’t have hills much bigger than the levees out front and I remember the first time I lived in the mountains for a while and how every time I wanted to get to my cabin up top I had to make several stops long the way to catch my breath again. And the Bible says it was a high mountain, so in a sense I guess you could say that the beginning part of the journey was also the penitential rite! Maybe a stretch, but it works!

Anywho, continuing on. The passage carries on as Jesus “was transfigured before them” and they beheld for a moment His radiant glory as His face and clothes “became white as light.” This incredible event was a physical way of Jesus revealing Himself and letting the disciples understand a little more who He really was. And is this not the exact thing that happens in the reading of the Scriptures? The presence of Moses, the one who gave God’s law to the Israelites, and the greatest prophet, Elijah, who pointed forward to Jesus, indicates that the whole law and prophets were awaiting this one man to come among us. Each weekend we hear those same readings from the law and prophets in the Old Testament and the letters and Gospels of the New Testament and are able to hear Jesus speaking to us about who He is. When the disciples see what is happening Peter cries out, “Lord! It is good that we are here! Let’s build three tents!” He wants to stay there because of the joy of the occasion. Shouldn’t we too be rejoicing in the occasion of revelation from Christ? The truth is that if we come here and are not impacted in some way by the readings there is a problem because we have become deaf to the voice of God. It’s a time to be attentive and wait for the Lord to speak to us and reveal Himself to us in some way. But it is not enough for us to stay in that place.

In the middle of Peter’s exclamation to Christ, bright cloud cast a shadow over them and a voice pierced the skies saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him.” A statement and a command. After the revelation of Christ in the Scriptures we celebrate the Eucharist and a sort of shadow comes over us, too, veiling the full mystery at hand – there is chalice veil, incense, and various prayers and actions and in the midst of them all the sacred statement: “This is My Body. This is the chalice of My Blood.” followed by the command: “Do this in memory of Me.” The disciples prostrated themselves on the floor, but we simply kneel in humble adoration as the Heavens are opened up to us as well and we receive what Jesus describes as the Bread from Heaven, His own flesh.

Here comes the part that is most profound. The disciples are there, faces pressed to the floor in reverential fear of the Lord. And we are told that “Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and do not be afraid.’” Holy Communion is the time when Jesus comes to us. He descends from the heavens onto this holy altar and then He descends the steps to come to each of us and touches us; flesh touches flesh. And He says to each of us “Rise, and do not be afraid.” All of us have our cross to bear. That’s what St. Paul is reminding St. Timothy of in our second reading when he says, “Bear your share of hardship for the gospel.” He’s basically saying, ‘Timothy, pick up your cross! Walk!’ This walk is not something we can do alone otherwise end up like this third Station right here when Jesus falls the first time, except it happens a thousand more. We have to rely upon Him and the grace He gives to us. St. Paul continued his urging, saying, “He saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works but according to his own design and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus.” The calling God gives us and the grace He pours out are not because of anything we have done but wholly because we are part of His plan. Each of us has a purpose and all of us are written into a certain part of God’s plan. Our daily task is to seek it out and to fulfill it. And this is the conclusion of the Gospel.

When Jesus tells them to ‘Rise, and do not be afraid’ it says that “when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus alone.” They saw no one but Jesus alone.  This could be taken in two ways. First, it is important for us to have Jesus Christ truly as the center of our life. It is for us to see Jesus alone because we are always looking to Him so that no matter whether we are at work, school, church, ball practice, the grocery store, or playing games, Jesus is the center and everything else revolves around Him. Jesus isn’t a part of our life. He is the whole foundation of everything else. Secondly, it can be taken to indicate that every person that they encountered from then on, they saw Jesus in that person. The poor person in need of help: Jesus. Those ignorant of the faith: Jesus. The person that aggravates us to no end: Jesus. The person that talks bad about us: Jesus. The random person that we don’t know their name: Jesus.

My brothers and sisters, we’ve climbed the mountain today to encounter the Living God. We have heard His revelation to us. We will soon kneel in adoration at that sacred statement and command, and then we will be touched by God and given strength to walk forward. The task then is for us go out and seek to love, serve, and honor those in need. God grant that we might walk away changed today and truly see Jesus alone.